Rooftop Agriculture Meets Engineering

Written by Alberto Carlos Ibarra
Summer 2018

In the summer, my project consisted of researching and developing a rooftop garden that intersects urban agriculture practices with technological systems (and other engineering/design aspects). The La Loma Rooftop Garden will increase accessibility and production of healthy foods, while providing a place for meditation and yoga. This summer, I worked behind the scenes, learning about engineering systems for rooftop food production. I will start doing more construction within the next couple weeks with the Hispanic Engineers and Scientists (HES) team. The objectives for the Fall 2018 are to educate and provide HES active members with research and hands-on experiences in team-oriented projects.

Tasks Completed

To better visualize the rooftop garden, I mapped out the space and calculated the area for it. I created a Google map of the garden with images around the space. In addition, utilizing Solidworks, I designed and created a three-dimensional area of the space. The HES engineering team will utilize these representations to easily visualize where each technological system will be implemented.

Also, due to the fact that this project will be an innovative student-led project, these visual images will assist our design team when they each complete a mind map. For clarification, mind mapping assists an individual with brainstorming and imagining where each system will be placed and how it will appear based on the maps and 3D objects.

Throughout the summer, I visited two aquaponics systems: a small system located in Oakland, and Ouroboros Farms in San Mateo. These trips helped me to understand this particular technology for urban agriculture. I learned about the benefits of aquaponics systems, and it inspired me to include one at the La Loma Rooftop Garden. It was truly a wonderful educational opportunity and experience for me to learn from the owner of Ouroboros Farms, Ken Armstrong, while seeing his aquaponics system in action.

In addition, I visited my environmental science high school teacher at the community garden, where I learned about their small hydroponics systems, foods that they grow sustainably, designs for vertical gardens, and the perks of utilizing grow towers. After researching various technological systems, I have compiled a list of systems and methods that I am strongly considering to into the sustainable building systems:

  • Aquaponics Systems
  • Hydroponics Systems
  • Sustainable Irrigation and Drainage Water Systems
  • Agriculture Sensor Technology, including Timers
  • 3D Printing (for plant holders, vases, pots, planters, etc.)
  • Solar Panels
  • Grow Towers
  • Movable Garden Beds that are also used for seating areas
  • Vertical Gardens (including pocket vertical gardens)
  • Small Greenhouse
  • Worm Composting (tea)
  • Hay Bale Gardens

Next steps

In terms of logistics, my next steps are to finalize the committees and small HES teams for each particular technological system. I am currently waiting for the finalized roster from the HES organization. Once I have the list, I will be able to start constructing some of the systems. In addition, I have been in contact with the RSF director to confirm with me about the security of the space. We had stolen plants throughout the summer. We also need access to the storage unit for our materials and equipment.

In addition, I have been having logistics meetings, such as a recent meeting with Megan Prier (campus garden coordinator), to understand how to access the funds from the rooftop garden grant and how to actively be involve with other campus related gardens. I have been making contacts to collaborate with other organizations (school/community) and I am currently talking to PhD engineering students to take part of the garden for they can be mentors or provide advice to our undergraduate engineers.

In terms of the promoting the rooftop garden, I am planning to develop a website to explain our initiatives, each technological system, the various food systems/production, and the cost-benefit analysis. I want to continue promoting the project for UC Berkeley to consider including rooftop gardens in future developments for their promising advantages for the community, such as producing healthy foods and improving social interactions. It will also enrich student enjoyment of outdoor spaces through enhanced campus aesthetics.

3D Representations of the La Loma Rooftop Garden Space

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